2015-01-14 / Star Journal

Happenings In Post-WWI World Queens

The Greater Astoria Historical Society presents pages from the Long Island Star Journal.

Welcome to January 1923!

In January 1923, news appeared in American newspapers of a sensational discovery in the far off sands of the Egyptian desert. Late in the previous year, English archaeologists led by Howard Carter had found the wondrous tomb of none other than King Tutankhamun resting in the Valley of the Kings.

Meanwhile, down in Louisiana, in a case that drew national attention, the state opened an investigation into the brutal murders of two white men by the Ku Klux Klan in the town of Mer Rouge. Although the town’s mayor was charged with the murders, the Klan abducted witnesses and the grand jury did not return an indictment.

Back home in New York City, locals driven indoors by the biting winter cold were treated to the sensational basketball exploits of the barnstorming Original Celtics. Captained by John Beckman, known as the “Babe Ruth of basketball”, the kings of the hardwood hit the road that month to face their toughest competition to date in the Boston Whirlwinds. The result of the contest is lost to history, but the Celtics finished the season with a record of 193-11-1.


The Astoria theatre continued to attract moviegoers until its closing in 2001. The building still stands on Steinway Street and houses a gym and street level retail stores. The Astoria theatre continued to attract moviegoers until its closing in 2001. The building still stands on Steinway Street and houses a gym and street level retail stores. Out in Queens, Astorians were in for a special treat that month. Theatre magnate Marcus Loew, the largest owner of movie houses in the country, organized a spectacular Vaudeville show at the Astoria theatre to celebrate his purchase of the venue. Speaking to the crowd on the special occasion, Loew remarked “I always desired to locate in this section. When I was a boy I sold lozenges at the Astoria Ferry, and…It was the most profitable field for me at the time.”

The theatre continued to attract moviegoers until its closing in 2001. The building still stands on Steinway Street and houses a gym and street level retail stores.

Locals gazing skyward that January were in for a spectacle of a far more novel sort. As a small Handley-Page airplane performed a series of acrobatic twists and turns at an altitude of some two miles, New Yorkers made out the words “Lucky Strike” in letters up to one mile in length. Captain Cyril Turner had expended some 80 million cubic feet of smoke in the endeavor by the time he etched the letter “e” in the skies over East Elmhurst. The words marked the first time advertising sky writing had appeared over the skies of Queens and were the largest letters in human history.

Just five years after the Great War, one of the greatest tragedies in human history, Queens veterans gathered to honor the Reverend Doctor Milton S. Littlefield of Corona. The pastor, who had visited 14 countries since the global conflict, including the devastated regions of France, was made an honorary member of the Flanders Field Post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in a solemn ceremony that month. Dr. Littlefield was the son of the late Major General Milton S. Littlefield, also known as “Prince of the Carpetbaggers” for his role in defrauding the state of North Carolina of some $4 million during the Reconstruction period. His great-great grandfather also served as a Colonel in a unit from New Jersey during the war for independence.

With 20th century technological progress for all to see in the theatres and in the skies, in January 1923 Queens bid farewell to a distinguished resident descended from another venerable, colonial-era family. Samuel William Bowne of Flushing succumbed to pneumonia at his home on --Broadway (now Northern Boulevard) that month some 10 years after retiring from tending his farm in the area. Born in 1841 in the old Bowne farmhouse, S.W. Bowne was hit by a car while crossing Broadway near his home some two weeks before his death. He was a descendant of Dutch immigrant John Bowne, who built the house bearing his name which still stands as a museum on Bowne Street.

That’s the way it was in January 1923!

We are open to the public, Saturdays, noon until five at “Quinn’s Gallery,” 4th Floor, 35-20 Broadway, Long Island City. Additional hours Monday and Wednesday two to five! Visit our gift shop on line. For further information, call the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278- 0700 or visit our website at www.astorialic.org.

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